The road is smooth and even, the curves rounded and predictable yet still tight enough to be fun – the bike purrs beneath him – the overall effect is sumptuous. He smiles and notes a change in the air temperature, suddenly down a couple of degrees as he rises from the valley.
He powers out of the first bend in the long series that will take him to the brow of the hill. The bike pulls smoothly, powerfully – he swears the bike runs better when it’s clean, is convinced that it feels simply happier when washes it.
As he drops into a left-hand bend, he has to squint against the sun, flashing in the mirror. Behind him, to the west, the sky is deep Azur blue, the sun bright and surprisingly warm for this time of year. In front though, it’s a different matter – the clouds are forming as he watches, the edges mere swirling swathes of mist, but the center darker and darker as the minutes pass. But there’s no way home except through the middle of it. He wonders how long his new leathers will keep the rain out if it comes. Probably not for long.
For a while though, the cloud seems to remain a steady distance ahead, as if maybe it is moving at the same speed as he is, and then, as he sweeps down and through another valley, another series of bends, as he nods at a biker coming the other way and sees that he is wet, the first drip of rain hits his own visor.
He drops the bike into a right hand bend – for the moment the roads are still dry – and notes yet another drop in temperature. It’s never a good sign when there is rain about – the temperature change almost always the precursor of imminent downpour.
The odours are different too; suddenly he can smell the humidity, smell the green dank of the forest around him. He shivers; the temperature has dropped at least 10 degrees in so many kilometres. The rain is falling lightly but steadily now. He’s having to wipe his visor with one finger; having to slow down too – for the roads are starting to glisten. He can feel the cold starting to penetrate his leathers.
He smiles, for obtuse as it may seem, it’s precisely this that he loves about motorbikes, all this, what could you call it… Being there. The smell of the air, the awareness of the weather; the risk of getting soaked and drying out again – it all just shouts, alive!
That’s why bikers nod at each other, he thinks. For choosing to ride a motorbike goes against the grain of everything that is happening in modern materialist society. Most spending these days goes towards isolation from the natural world; the more you spend the less you get hot, the less you get cold, the more luxury you can purchase, the less you feel the bumps in the road, the less you need to worry if it rains or snows… Choosing to ride a bike is the exact opposite, and that’s why all bikers have something in common. That’s the thing they recognise in each other.
But it’s not always fun, and in a way that’s the point. It’s a whole different attitude to life – one that says, OK, throw it at me; bring it on! Like now for instance…
He shivers – the rain is pelting down – he’s actually starting to feel the force of the droplets as a mild tingling sensation through the leather. And it’s soaking through his gloves, trickling into a boot. Ick!
As he slowly rounds another bend, the rain moves from hard to outrageous – he can barely see where he’s going – ahhh, he realises that it’s just the visor steaming up because of the drop in temperature, but when he flips it up to get a clearer view of the road the pain that strikes his face makes him realise: it’s no longer rain; it’s hail – bizarre, surreal almost because he can still see blue sky in his rear view mirror.
Another straight then another bend, and the hail is bouncing off the road; he can hear the sound of it striking the petrol tank, and he starts to worry for the paintwork, but the next town is miles away still, and to the right and left there is only forest, dense and dark and yet still too sparse to protect him from the weather.
As he reaches the plateau at the top of the hill, the pain of the hailstones – now crazy golf ball sized – striking his arms is almost too much to bear, and the bike is starting to slither and slide in the bends – it’s like riding on ball-bearings. He looks desperately around for somewhere to stop – he sees two cars pulled over – no doubt scared for their windscreens, and then a bike under a tree… He pulls up beside it and peers into the forest. And there it is: an abandoned shed. Thanks be!
He parks his bike next to the BMW and runs through the wild, apocalyptic hailstones towards the shed.
Inside he’s immediately aware of the two bikers in the shed, but it takes a while before his eyes adjust to the gloom – even outside it’s almost dark. The noise of the deluge hitting the tin roof is deafening.
Slowly he starts to see: the walls of the shed, the tiny broken window, an old hypodermic on the floor, a condom. He sees the two bikers now too, one dressed in grey and yellow nylon BMW kit, the other, like he, in black leathers. They are in their forties, unshaven, unsmiling.
“Hi,” he says, forcing some laughter into his voice. “Hope you don’t mind me sharing your shed for a bit – it seems to be the only one around.”
The BMW guy nods at him slowly and then shrugs. It’s less than he would have hoped for, but then they’re probably having a bad day. He glances outside at the weather. “Amazing, huh?” he tries again.
Black leather guy nods. “Yeah,” he says.
He analyses the physical atmosphere inside the shed. Cold; colder than outside even. And damp, dank, a little putrid. And there’s something about the psychic atmosphere too, something’s not right; for some reason he isn’t welcome. But there’s not a lot he can do about that, they’ll have to lump it, at least until the rain stops.
There’s a sharp smell too, something specific and unpleasant lurking beneath the general reek of the shed. Shit? Piss? One of the guys is fiddling with his zipper. Did he just shit at the back of the shed?
Both men have stepped forward and he can see them more clearly now in the dim light leaking from the missing door. But there’s no hint of friendship or bikerly bonhomie in their movements. He feels like an alien being inspected by scientists; or a mouse being cornered by a cat – two cats; or maybe like the lover of a praying mantis.
He steps back toward the doorway, close enough that the rain is again hitting the heels of his boots. The strangers follow, both stepping slowly towards him, like Dr Who zombies – possessed beings.
“You got far to go?” he tries, hearing and regretting the nervousness in his own voice.
“Corsica,” Black Leather Guy says.
He nods. “Corsica is nice,” he smiles. “I was there two years ago. Great biking.”
“Nice women,” BMW man says.
“Like my niece,” the other one adds.
It’s an effort not to frown.
“She’s very pretty,” the guy continues. “Thirteen years old; you’d find her hot.”
He nods and swallows – glances nervously out at the rain.
“Maybe he doesn’t like pretty girls,” BMW guy says, as black leather guy steps forward again.
He studies the guy’s face, now clearly visible in the light. Rough but cute. If his top lip wasn’t curled into a snarl he could almost be described as sexy. But it is. A snarl of mockery or disgust, he’s not sure which.
“Yeah, maybe he wouldn’t like her after all, the other one says. Maybe he prefers a bit of this.”
But now he’s back outside in the mad downpour, jogging back to his bike. In a film, this is where he would trip over, he thinks, checking the forest floor for fallen branches, pulling on his crash helmet, taking his keys from his pocket.
The bike hesitates, and it seems his heart hesitates with it, but then it fires up, and ignoring the vague spluttering of the engine, he pulls away. He glances behind just once, but the rain is too dense for him to see if they are watching, or following…
And then he’s off across the plateau, the incredible balls of ice bashing against him, thunder now crashing behind him.
As he reaches the first bend marking the beginning of the descent, the hail turns to rain, and then a mere 100 yards after that to drizzle, and then within five kilometres he’s riding in hot sunshine looking at the steam rising from the roads.
And he wonders what he just saw; wonders at how similar to something from a fairytale what just happened was; wonders if he has just walked into – and back out of the big bad wolf’s lair. He thinks that if he believed in such things, he would think that he had just stumbled across evil.
He shakes his head. But what was that about? He replays the conversation in his head, but it makes no sense. Homophobia? But how could they know he’s gay? What was that? Pedophilia? Incest? Random madness?
And then he sees that the roads here are dry – it hasn’t rained at all. And as he whacks open the throttle and the bike pulls exhilaratingly away across the plain, he decides that maybe he does believe in evil after all. And maybe he just met it and escaped intact.